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The Idea of Empire 



Alain de Benoist. 

Europe was the place where two great models of polity, of political unity, were elaborated, developed 
and clashed: the nation, preceded by the monarchy, and the empire. The last emperor of the Latin West, 
Romulus Augustus, was deposed in 475. Only the Eastern empire remained. But after the Western 
empire was dismantled, a new unitary consciousness seems to have arisen. In 795, Pope Leon III started 
to date his encyclicals based on the reign of Charles, king of the Franks and patrician of the Romans, 
rather than on the reign of the emperor of Constantinople. Five years later in Rome, on Christmas Day in 
the year 800, Leon III placed the imperial crown on Charlemagne's head. 

This is the first renovation of the empire. It obeys the theory of transfer (transratio imperii) according to 
which the empire Charlemagne revived is a continuation of the Roman empire, thus putting an end to 
theological speculations inspired by the prophet David who foresaw the end of the world alter the end 
of the fourth empire, i.e., after the end of the Roman empire which succeeded the Babylonian, the 
Persian and the Alexandrian empires. 

At the same time, the renovation of the empire also breaks with the Augustinian idea of a radical 
opposition between civitas terrena and civitas Dei, which could have been understood to mean that a 
Christian empire was only a chimera. In fact, Leon III had a new strategy — a Christian empire, where 
the emperor would be the defender of the City of God. The emperor derived his powers from the pope, 
whose spiritual powers he reproduced in the temporal realm. Of course, all quarrels surrounding 
investitures will stem from this equivocal formulation which makes the emperor a subject in the spiritual 
order but at the same time makes him the head of a temporal hierarchy whose sacred character will 
soon be asserted. 

After the Verdun Treaty (843) sealed the division of the empire between Charlemagne's three grandsons 
(Lothario I, Ludwig the German, and Charles the Bald), the king of Saxony, Henry I, was crowned 
emperor in 919. The empire then became Germanic. Alter Carolingian power was dislocated, it was 
restored again in the center of Europe with the Othonians and the Franks in 962 to the benefit of King 
Otto I of Germania. It remained the major political force in Europe until the middle of the 13th century, 
when it was officially transformed into the Sacrum Romanum Imperium. After 1442, the appellation "of 
the German nation" was added. 

It is not possible to retrace the history of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation here beyond 
pointing out that throughout its history it was a composite bringing together three components: 
antiquity, Christianity, and German identity. 

Historically the imperial idea began to disintegrate in the Renaissance, with the appearance of the first 
national states. Of course, the 1525 victory of Pavia, won by imperial forces against Francis ll's troops, 
seemed to reverse the trend. At the time, this event was considered very important and caused a 



The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 

renaissance of Ghibellinism in Italy. Alter Charles V, however, the imperial title did not go to his son 
Philip, and the empire was again reduced to a local affair. Alter the Peace of Westphalia (1648), it was 
seen less and less as something dignified and more and more as a simple confederation of territorial 
states. The decline went on for another two and a half centuries. On April 6, 1806, Napoleon brought 
the revolution to fruition by destroying what remained of the empire. Francis II resigned his tide and the 
Holy Roman Empire was no more. 

At first sight, the concept of empire is not easy to understand, given the often contradictory uses that 
have been made of it. In his dictionary, Littre is satisfied with a tautological definition: an empire is "a 
state ruled by an emperor." This is a bit too brief. Like the polis or the nation, the empire is a kind of 
political unity; unlike the monarchy or the republic, it is not a form of government. This means that the 
empire is compatible a priori with different forms of government. The first article in the Weimar 
Constitution stated that "the German Reich is a republic." Even in 1978, the constitutional court at 
Karlsruhe did not hesitate to claim that "the German Reich remains a subject of international law." The 
best way to understand the substantive reality of the empire is by comparing it with that of the nation 
or the nation-state — the latter represents the end of a process of nationality-formation for which 
France more or less provides the best example. 

In its current meaning, the nation appears as a modern phenomenon. In this respect, both Colette 

Beaune and Bernard Guene are wrong in locating the birth of the nation very early in history. This idea 
rests on anachronisms; it confuses "royal" and "national," the formation of nationality and the 
formation of nation. The formation of nationality corresponds with the birth of a sense of belonging 
which begins to go beyond the simple natal horizon during the war against the Plantagenets — a sense 
reinforced during the Hundred Years War. But it should not be forgotten that in the Middle Ages the 
word "nation" (from nation, "birth") had an exclusively ethnic meaning — the nations of the Sorbonne 
are simply groups of students who speak a different language. In the same way, the word "country," 
which only appeared in France with the 16th century humanists (Dolet, Ronsard, Du Bellay), originally 
referred to the medieval notion of "homeland." When more than a mere attachment to the land of 
one's birth, "patriotism" is fidelity to the lord or allegiance to the person of the king. Even the word 
"France" appeared relatively late. Starting with Charles III (called the Simple) the title borne by the king 
of France was Rex Francorum. The expression Rex Franciae only appeared at the beginning of the 13th 
century, under Philippe-Auguste, alter the defeat of the Count of Toulouse au Muret, which ended with 
the annexation of the countries speaking the langue d'oc and with the persecution of the Cathars. 

The idea of nation was fully constituted only in the 18th century, especially during the revolution. At the 
beginning it referred to a concept of sovereignty opposed to that of absolute monarchy. It brought 
together those who thought the same politically and philosophically - it was no longer the king but the 
"nation" which embodied the country's political unity. Finally, it was the abstract location where people 
could conceive of and exercise their rights, where individuals were transformed into citizens. 

First of all, the nation is the sovereign people which, in the best of all cases, delegates to the king only 
the power to apply the law emanating from the general will; then it is those peoples who recognize the 
authority of a state, inhabit the same territory and recognize each other as members of the same 



The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 

political unity; finally, it is the political unity itself. This is why the counter-revolutionary tradition, which 
exalts the aristocratic principle, initially refrains from valuing the nation. Conversely, Article 3 of the 
1789 Declaration of Rights proclaims "The principle of all sovereignty essentially resides in the nation." 
Bertrand de Jouvenel even wrote that: "In hindsight, the revolutionary movement seems to have had as 
its goal the foundation of the cult of the nation." 2 

What distinguishes the empire from the nation? First of all, the fact that the empire is not primarily a 
territory but essentially an idea or a principle. The political order is determined by it — not by material 
factors or by possession of a geographical area. It is determined by a spiritual or juridical idea. In this 
respect, it would be a serious mistake to think that the empire differs from the nation primarily in terms 
of size in that it is somehow "a bigger nation than others". Of course, an empire covers a wide area. 
What is important, however, is that the emperor holds power by virtue of embodying something which 
goes beyond simple possession. As dominus mundi, he is the suzerain of princes and kings, i.e., he rules 
over sovereigns, not over territories, and represents a power transcending the community he governs. 

Julius Evola writes: "The empire should not be confused with the kingdoms and nations which constitute 
it because it is something qualitatively different, prior to and above each of them in terms of its 
principle." 3 Before it expressed a system of supra-national territorial hegemony, "the old Roman notion 
of imperium referred to the pure power of command, the quasi-mystical force of auctoritas." During the 
Middle Ages, the prevailing distinction was precisely one between auctoritas (moral and spiritual 
superiority) and potestas (simple political public power exercised by legal means). In both the medieval 
empire and the Holy Roman Empire, this distinction underlies the separation between imperial authority 
and the emperor's sovereign authority over a particular people. For example, Charlemagne was part 
emperor and part king of the Lombards and the Franks. From then on, allegiance to the emperor was 
not submission to a people or to a particular country. In the same way, in the Austro-Hungarian empire, 
loyalty to the Hapsburg dynasty constituted "the fascism link between peoples and replaced patriotism" 
(Jean Branger); it prevailed over relations of a national or confessional character. 

This spiritual character of the imperial principle directly provoked the famous quarrel concerning 
investitures which pitted the partisans of the pope and those of the emperor against each other for 
many centuries. Lacking any military content, the notion of empire originally acquired a strong 
theological cast in the medieval Germanic world, where one could see a Christian reinterpretation of the 
Roman idea of imperium. Considering themselves the executors of universal sacred history, the 
emperors deduced from this the idea that the empire, as a "sacred" institution (Sacrum imperium), must 
constitute an autonomous power with respect to the pope. This is the reason for the quarrel between 
the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. 

The emperor's followers who denied the pope's pretensions - the Ghibellines — found support in the 
old distinction between imperium and sacerdotium, seen as two equally important spheres both 
instituted by God. This interpretation was an extension of the Roman concept of relations between the 
emperor and the pontifex maximus, each being superior to the other in their respective orders. The 
Ghibelline viewpoint was not to subject spiritual authority to temporal power but to claim for imperial 
power an equal spiritual authority in the face of the Church's exclusive pretensions. So for Frederick II of 



The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 

Hohenstaufen, the emperor is the half-divine intermediary whereby God's justice is spread on earth. 
This renovatio, which makes the emperor the essential source of law and confers on him the character 
of "living law on earth" (lex animata in fern's), encapsulates the Ghibelline claim: like the pope, the 
empire must be recognized as an institution sacred in nature and character. Evola emphasizes that the 
opposition between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines "was not only political ... it expressed the 
antagonism of two great dignitates, both claiming a spiritual dimension .... On its deepest level, 
Ghibellinism held that during his life on earth (seen as discipline, combat and service) the individual 
could transcend himself ... by means of action and under the sign of the empire, in accordance with the 
character of the 'supernatural' institution which was granted to it." 4 

From here on, the decline of the empire throughout the centuries is consistent with the decline of the 
central role played by its principle and, correspondingly, with its movement toward a purely territorial 
definition. The Germanic Roman empire had already changed when the attempt was made in both Italy 
and Germany to link it to a privileged territory. This idea is still absent in Dante, for whom the emperor 
is neither German nor Italian but "Roman" in the spiritual sense, i.e., a successor of Caesar and 
Augustus. In other words, the empire cannot transform itself into a "great nation" without collapsing 
because, in terms of the principle which animates it, no nation can assume and exercise a superior ruling 
function if it does not rise above its allegiances and its particular interests. "The empire in the true 
sense," Evola concludes, "can only exist it animated by a spiritual fervor ... It this is lacking, one will only 
have a creation forged by violence — imperialism — a simple mechanical superstructure without a 
soul." 5 

For its part, the nation finds its origin in the pretension that the kingdom has to give itself imperial 
prerogatives by relating them not to a principle but a territory. Its beginnings can be located in the 
division of the Carolingian empire following the Verdun Treaty. At that point France and Germany, it one 
can call them that, began to have separate destinies. The latter remained in the imperial tradition, 
whereas the kingdom of the Franks (Regnum Francorum), seceding from the Germanic community, 
slowly evolved toward the modern nation by the intermediary of the monarchical state. The end of the 
Carolingian dynasty dates from the 10th century: 911 in Germany, 987 in France. Elected in 987, Hughes 
Capet was the first king who did not understand francique. He was also the first sovereign who situated 
himself clearly outside the imperial tradition, which explains why, in the Divine Comedy, Dante has him 
say: "I was the malignant roof whose shade darkened all Christian land!" 

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the kingdom of France was constructed against the empire with Philippe- 
Auguste (Bouvines, 1214) and Philippe le Bel (Agnani, 1303). As early as 1204, Pope Innocent III declared 
that "it is publicly known that the king of France does not recognize any authority above him in the 
temporal realm." Just as the Trojan legend was instrumentalized, an entire work of "ideological" 
legitimation allowed the empire to be opposed to the principle of sovereignty of national kingdoms and 
their right to recognize no law other than their own interest. The role of jurists, emphasized so well by 
Carl Schmitt, is fundamental here. In the mid-13th century they were the ones who formulated the 
doctrine according to which "the king of France, who does not see anyone above him in the temporal 
realm, is exempt from the empire and may be considered as a princeps in regno suo." 6 This doctrine was 
further developed in the 14th and 15th centuries with Pierre Dubois and Guillaume de Nogaret. By 



The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 

proclaiming himself "emperor in his own realm" (rex imperator in regno suo), the king opposed his 
territorial sovereignty to the spiritual sovereignty of the empire - his purely temporal power was 
opposed to imperial spiritual power. At the same time, jurists took the side of centralization against local 
elite, and against the feudal aristocracies, thanks especially to the institution of the "cas royal." They 
founded a juridical order, bourgeois in character, in which the law — conceived as a general norm with 
rational attributes — became the basis of a purely statist power. Law was transformed into simple 
legality codified by the state. In the 16th century, the formula of the king as "emperor in his own realm" 
was directly associated with the idea of sovereignty, about which Jean Bodin theorized. Schmitt remarks 
that France was the first country in the world to create a public order completely emancipated from the 
medieval model. 

What happened next is well known. In France the nation came into being under the double sign of 
centralizing absolutism and the rise of the bourgeoisie. Here the main role tell on the state. When Louis 
XIV said "L'Etat c'est moi," he meant there was nothing above the state. The state creates the nation, 
which in turn "produces" the French people; whereas in the modern age and in countries with an 
imperial tradition, the people create the nation, which then creates a state. The two processes of 
historical construction are thus entirely opposed and this opposition is based on the difference between 
the nation and the empire. As has often been pointed out, the history of France has been a constant 
struggle against the empire. The secular politics of the French monarchy was primarily aimed at breaking 
up Germanic and Italian spaces. Alter 1792, the republic took up the same objectives: the struggle 
against the house of Austria and the conquest of the Rhine. 

The opposition between the spiritual principle and the territorial power is not the only one. Another 
essential difference concerns the way in which the empire and the nation regard political unity. The 
unity of the empire was not mechanical but organic, which goes beyond the state. To the degree to 
which it embodies a principle, the empire only envisages a unity on the level of that principle. Whereas 
the nation engenders its own culture or finds support in culture in the process of its formation, the 
empire embraces various cultures. Whereas the nation tries to make the people and the state 
correspond, the empire associates different peoples. 

The principle of empire tries to reconcile the one and the many, the particular and the universal. Its 
general law is that of autonomy and of the respect for diversity. The empire tries to unify on a higher 
level, without suppressing the diversity of cultures, ethnic characters and peoples. It is a whole whose 
parts are autonomous in proportion to the solidity of what unites them. These parts are differentiated 
and organic. In contrast to the unitary and centralized societas of the national kingdom, the empire 
embodies the classical image of universitas. Moeller van den Bruck rightly saw the empire as a unity of 
opposites, while Evola defined it as "a supranational organisation such that its unity does not tend to 
destroy or to level the ethnic and cultural multiplicity it embraces," 7 adding that the imperial principle 
makes it possible "to retreat from the multiplicity of diverse elements to a principle which is at once 
higher and prior to their differentiation - a differentiation which proceeds only from sensible reality." So 
it is not a question of abolishing but of integrating difference. 



The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 

At the height of the Roman Empire, Rome was an idea, a principle, which made it possible to unite 
different peoples without converting or suppressing them. The principle of imperium, which was already 
at work in republican Rome, reflected the will to realize an always threatened cosmic order. The Roman 
Empire did not require jealous gods. It admitted other divinities, known or unknown, and the same is 
the case in the political order. The empire accepted foreign cults and the diversity of juridical codes. 
Each people was free to organize its federation in terms of its traditional concept of law. The Roman jus 
prevailed only in relations between individuals of different peoples or in relations between federations. 
One could be a Roman citizen (civis romanus sum) without abandoning one's nationality. 

This distinction (foreign to the spirit of the nation) between what today is called nationality and 
citizenship can be found in the Germanic Roman Empire. The medieval Reich, a supra-national 
institution (because animated by a principle beyond the political order), was fundamentally pluralist. It 
allowed people to live their own lives according to their own law. In modern language, it was 
characterized by a marked "federalism" particularly able to respect minorities. After all, the Austro- 
Hungarian Empire functioned efficiently for centuries while minorities began to constitute most of its 
population (60% of the total). It brought together Italians and Romanians, as well as Jews, Serbs, 
Russians, Germans, Poles, Czechs, Croats and Hungarians. Jean Branger writes that "the Hapsburgs were 
always indifferent to the concept of nation-state," even to the point where this empire, founded by the 
house of Austria, for many centuries refused to create an "Austrian nation," which really only took 
shape in the 20th century. 8 

Conversely, what characterizes the national realm is its irresistible tendency to centralization and 
homogenization. The nation-state's investment of space is first revealed in a territory on which an 
homogeneous political sovereignty is exercised. This homogeneity may at first be apprehended in law: 
territorial unity results from the uniformity of juridical norms. The monarchy's secular struggle against 
the feudal nobility, especially under Louis XI, the annihilation of the civilizations of countries where the 
langue d'oc was spoken, the affirmation of the principle of centralization under Richelieu, all tended in 
the same direction. In this respect, the 14th and 15th centuries marked a fundamental shift. During this 
period the state emerged as the victor against feudal aristocracies and ensured its alliance with the 
bourgeoisie at the same time as a centralized juridical order was put in place. Simultaneously, the 
"national" economic market appeared. Thanks to a monetarization of all forms of exchange (non- 
commercial, intra-community exchanges being untaxable before then), it responded to the will of the 
state to maximize its fiscal revenues. As Pierre Rosanvallon explains: "the nation-state is a way of 
composing and articulating global space. In the same way, the market is primarily a way of representing 
and structuring social space; only secondarily is it a decentralized mechanism for regulating economic 
activity through the price system. From this perspective, the nation-state and the market refer to the 
same form of socialization of individuals within space. They are conceivable only in an atomized society 
in which the individual is considered autonomous. In both the sociological and economic senses of these 
terms, a nation-state and a market cannot exist in spaces where society unfolds as a global and social 
entity." 9 

There is no doubt that monarchial absolutism paved the way for bourgeois national revolutions. After 
Louis XIV had broken the nobility's last resistances, the revolution was inevitable when the bourgeoisie 



The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 

could in turn win its autonomy. But there is also no doubt that in many respects the revolution only 
carried out and accelerated the tendencies of the Ancien Regime. Thus Tocqueville wrote: "The French 
Revolution caused many subordinate and secondary things, but it really only developed the core of the 
most important things; these existed before it ... . With the French, the central power had already 
taken over local administration more than any other country in the world. The revolution only made this 
power more skilful, powerful, enterprising." 10 

Under the monarchy, as under the republic, the "national" logic tried to eliminate anything that might 
interfere between the state and the individual. It tried to integrate individuals to the same laws in a 
unified fashion; it did not attempt to bring together collectivities free to preserve their language, 
cultures and laws. State power was exercised over individual subjects, which was why it constantly 
destroyed or limited the power of all forms of intermediate socialization: familial clans, village 
communities, confraternities, trades, etc. The 1791 law against corporations (loi Le Chapelier) thus 
found its precedent in Francis I's suppression of "all confraternities of trades and artisans in the whole 
kingdom" in 1539 — a decision which at that time targeted those artisans [Compagnons] belonging to 
societies said to be of duty. With the revolution, of course, this trend accelerated. The restructuring of 
the territory into departments of more or less equal size, the light against "the provincial spirit," the 
suppression of particularities, the offensive against regional languages and "patois," the standardization 
of weights and measures, represent a real obsession with bringing everything into alignment. In terms of 
Ferdinand Tonnies' old distinction, the modern nation emerges when society rises on the rains of old 
communities. 

This individualist component of the nation-state is essential here. The empire requires the preservation 
of the diversity of groups; by its very logic, the nation recognizes only individuals. One is a member of 
the empire in a mediated fashion through intermediary structures. Conversely, one belongs to the 
nation in an immediate way, i.e., without the mediation of local ties, bodies or states. Monarchial 
centralization was essentially juridical and political; it thereby pointed to the work of constructing the 
state. Revolutionary centralization, which accompanied the emergence of the modern nation, went 
further still. It aimed at "producing the nation" directly, i.e., at engendering new social modes of 
behavior. The state then became productive of the social, a monopolistic producer: it attempted to 
establish a society of individuals recognized as equal on a secular level, on the ruins of the intermediate 
bodies it had suppressed. 11 

As Jean Baechler points out, "in the nation the intermediate groups are seen as irrelevant with respect 
to the citizenry and so tend to become secondary and subordinated." 12 Louis Dumont argues along 
similar lines, that nationalism results from transferring the subjectivity characteristic of individualism to 
the level of an abstract collectivity. "In the most precise, modern, sense of the term, 'nation' and 
'nationalism' (distinguished from simple patriotism) have historically been part and parcel of 
individualism as a value. The nation is just a type of global society which corresponds to the reign of 
individualism as a value, not only does the nation accompany individualism historically, the 
interdependence between them is so indispensable that one could say the nation is a global society 
composed of people who consider themselves individuals." 13 



The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 

This individualism, woven within the logic of the nation, is obviously opposed to the holism of imperial 
construction, where the individual is not dissociated from his natural connections. In the empire the 
same citizenry is composed of different nationalities. In the nation the two terms are synonyms: 
belonging to a nation is the foundation for citizenship. Pierre Fougeyrollas summarizes the situation in 
these terms: "Breaking with medieval societies which had a bipolar identity - that of ethnic roots and of 
the community of believers — modern nations are constituted as closed societies where the only official 
identity is that which the state confers on citizens. Thus in terms of its birth and foundations, the nation 
has been an anti-empire. The Netherlands originated in a break with the Hapsburg Empire; England 
originated in a break with Rome and the establishment of a national religion. Spain only became 
Castillian by escaping from the grasp of the Hapsburg system, and France, which was slowly constituted 
as a nation against the Germanic Roman Empire, only became a nation by combating traditional forces 
in all of Europe." 14 

The empire is never a closed totality, as opposed to the nation, which has been increasingly defined by 
intangible boundaries. The empire's frontiers are naturally fluid and provisional, which reinforces its 
organic character. Originally the word "frontier" had an exclusively military meaning: the front line. At 
the beginning of the 14th century, under the reign of Louis X the Hutin in France, the word "frontiere" 
replaced "marche," which had commonly been used up to then. But it would still take four centuries 
before it acquired its current meaning of delimitation between two states. Contrary to legend, the idea 
of a "natural frontier," which jurists sometimes used in the 15th century, never inspired the external 
politics of the monarchy. Its origin is sometimes wrongly attributed to Richelieu, or even to Vauban. In 
fact, only during the revolution was this idea, according to which the French nation would have "natural 
frontiers," used systematically. Under the Convention especially, the Girodins used it to legitimate the 
establishment of the eastern frontier on the left bank of the Rhine and, more generally, to justify their 
annexation policies. It is also during the revolution that the Jacobin idea that the frontiers of a state 
have to correspond both to those of a language, a political authority and a nation begins to spread 
everywhere in Europe. Finally, it is the Convention which invented the notion of the "foreigner within" 
(of which Charles Maurras was paradoxically to make great use) by applying it to aristocrats who 
supported a despised political system: by defining them as "strangers in our midst," Barrere asserts that 
"aristocrats have no country." 

Even with its universal principle and vocation, the empire is not universalist in the current sense of the 
term. Its universality never meant expansion across the whole earth. Instead, it was connected to the 
idea of an equitable order seeking to federate peoples on the basis of a concrete political organization. 
From this viewpoint, the empire, which rejects any aim of conversion or standardization, differs from a 
hypothetical world-state or from the idea that there are juridico-political principles universally valid at 
all times and in all places. 

Since universalism is directly linked to individualism, modern political universalism must be conceived in 
terms of the individualist roots of the nation-state. Historical experience shows that nationalism often 
takes the form of an ethnocentrism blown up to universal dimensions. On many occasions the French 
nation wanted to be "the most universal of nations," and it is from the universality of its national model 
that it claimed to derive its right to disseminate its principles throughout the world. At the time when 

8 



The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 

France wanted to be "the elder sister of the Church/' the monk Guibert de Nogent, in his Dei per 
Francos, made the Franks the instrument of God. From 1792 on, revolutionary imperialism also tried to 
convert all of Europe to the idea of the nation-state. Since then, there has been no lack of voices 
authorized to ensure that the French idea of nation is ordered to that of humanity, and that this is what 
would make it particularly "tolerant." One can question this pretension since the proposition can be 
inverted: it the nation is ordered to humanity, it is because humanity is ordered to the nation. With this 
corollary, those opposed to it are excluded not only from a particular nation but from the human species 
in its entirety. 

The word empire should be reserved only for the historical constructions deserving this name, such as 
the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Germanic Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire. The 
Napoleonic empire, Hitler's Third Reich, the French and British colonial empires, and modern 
imperalisms of the American and Soviet types are certainly not empires. Such a designation is only 
abusively given to enterprises or powers merely engaged in expanding their national territory. These 
modern "great powers" are not empires but rather nations which simply want to expand, by military, 
political, economic or other conquest beyond their current frontiers. 

In the Napoleonic era the "empire" (a term already used to designate the monarchy before 1789, but 
simply in the sense of "state") was a national-statist entity attempting to assert itself in Europe as a 
great hegemonic power. Bismarck's empire, which gave priority to the state, also attempted to create 
the German nation. Alexandre Kojeve observed that "Hitler's slogan: Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Fuhrer is 
only a (bad) German translation of the nationalistic watchword of the French Revolution: la Republique 
une et indivisible. The Third Reich's hostility to the idea of empire is also visible in its critique of the 
ideology of intermediate bodies and "estates." 15 A centralist and reductive vision always prevailed in the 
Soviet "empire," implying a unified politico-economic space thanks to a restrictive concept of local 
cultural fights. As for the American "model," which tries to convert the whole world into a 
homogeneous system of material consumption and techno-economic practices, it is difficult to see what 
idea, what spiritual principle, it could claim! 

"Great powers" are not really empires. In fact, modern imperialisms should be challenged in the name 
of what an empire truly is. Evola thought no differently when he wrote: "Without a Meurs et deviens, no 
nation can aspire to an effective and legitimate imperial mission. It is not possible to retain one's 
national characteristics and then to desire, on this basis, to dominate the world or simply another 
place," 16 And again: "It the 'imperialist' tendencies of the modern age have been abortive because they 
often accelerate the downfall of the peoples who give in to them, or it they have been the source of all 
kinds of calamities, this is precisely because they lack any really spiritual — supra-political and supra- 
national — element; the latter is replaced by the violence of a power which is greater than the one it 
wants to subjugate but which is not of a different nature. As an empire is not a holy empire, it is not an 
empire but a kind of cancer attacking all the distinctive functions of a living organism." 17 

Why think at all about the concept of empire today? Is it not purely chimerical to call for the rebirth of a 
true empire? Perhaps. But is it an accident if, even today, the model of the Roman Empire has continued 
to inspire all attempts to go beyond the nation-state? Is it an accident it the idea of empire (the 



The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 



,18 



Reichsgedanke) still mobilizes reflection at a time when thought is in disarray? And is it not this idea of 
empire which underlies all the debates currently surrounding the construction of Europe? Is the nation- 
state irreplaceable? Many on the Left and on the Right have said so. This is, notably, Charles Maurras' 
viewpoint. According to him, the nation is "the biggest of the temporally solid and complete 
communitarian circles." 19 He taught that "there is no political framework larger than the nation." 20 
Thierry Maulnier replied: "The cult of the nation is not in itself a response but a refuge, a mystifying 
effusion, or worse still, a redoubtable diversion from internal problems." 21 

What basically moves the world today is beyond the nation-state. The latter finds its framework for 
action, its sphere of decision-making, torn apart by many ruptures. The nation is challenged both from 
above and below. It is challenged from below by new social movements: by the persistence of 
regionalisms and new communitarian claims. It is as if the intermediate forms of socialization which it 
once did away with were born again today in new forms. The divorce between civil society and the 
political class is reflected in the proliferation of networks and the multiplication of "tribes." But the 
nation is also challenged from above by often weighty social phenomena which mock national frontiers. 
The nation-state is stripped of its powers by the world market and international competition, by the 
formation of supranational or communitarian institutions, by intergovernmental bureaucracies, techno- 
scientific apparati, global media messages or international pressure groups. At the same time, there is 
the increasingly distinct external expansion of national economies at the expense of internal markets. 
The economy is becoming globalized because of interacting forces, multinationals, the stock-exchange, 
global macro-organizations. 

The imagery of nations also seems to be in crisis and those who talk of "national identity" are generally 
hard-pressed to define it. The national model of integration seems to be exhausted. The evolution of 
politics toward a system of techno-managerial authorities, which brings to fruition the implosion of 
political reality, confirms that the logic of nations is no longer able to integrate anyone or to assure the 
regulation of relations between a state criticized on all fronts and a civil society which is breaking apart. 
So the nation is confronted with the growth of certain collective or communitarian identities at the very 
moment when global centers of decision-making paint a gloomy picture above it. Daniel Bell expressed 
this when he said that nation-states have become too big for little problems and too little for the big 
ones. Deprived of any real historical foundation, in the Third World the nation-state seems to be a 
Western import. The long-term viability of, e.g., black African or near Eastern "nations," seems 
increasingly uncertain. In fact these nations are the result of a series of arbitrary decisions by colonial 
powers profoundly ignorant of local historical, religious and cultural realities. The dismantling of the 
Ottoman and of the Austro-Hungarian empires as a result of the Sevres and Versailles treaties was a 
catastrophe whose effects are still felt today — as the Gulf War and renewed conflicts in Central Europe 
show. 

In such conditions, how can the idea of empire be ignored? Today it is the only model Europe has 
produced as an alternative to the nation-state. Nations are both threatened and exhausted. They must 
go beyond themselves if they do not want to end up as dominions of the American superpower. They 
can only do so by attempting to reconcile the one and the many, seeking a unity that does not lead to 
their impoverishment. There are unmistakable signs of this. The fascination with Austria-Hungary and 

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The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 



22 



the rebirth of the idea of Mitteleuropa are among them. The call for empire will be born of necessity. 
The work Kojeve wrote in 1945, only recently published, is remarkable. In it he makes a fervent appeal 
for the formation of a "Latin empire" and posits the necessity of empire as an alternative to the nation- 
state and to abstract universality. "Liberalism," he wrote, "is wrong to see no political entity beyond the 
nation. Internationalism sins because it can see nothing politically viable beyond humanity. It too was 
incapable of discovering the intermediate political reality of empires, i.e., of unions, even international 
fusions, of related nations, which is today's very political reality." 23 

In order to create itself Europe requires a unity of political decision-making. But this European political 
unity cannot be built on the national Jacobin model if it does not want to see the richness and diversity 
of all European components disappear. It can also not result from the economic supra-nationality 
dreamt by Brussels technocrats. Europe can only create itself in terms of a federal model, but a federal 
model which is the vehicle for an idea, a project, a principle, i.e., in the final analysis, an imperial model. 
Such a model would make it possible to solve problems of regional cultures, ethnic minorities and local 
autonomies, which will not find a true solution within the framework of the nation-state. It would also 
make it possible to rethink the whole problem of relations between citizenship and nationality in light of 
certain problems arising from recent immigration. It would allow one to understand the resurgent 
dangers of ethno-linguistic irredentism and Jacobin racism. Finally, because of the important place it 
gives to the idea of autonomy, it would make room for grass-roots democratic procedures and direct 
democracy. Imperial principle above, direct democracy below: this is what would renew an old tradition! 

Today there is a lot of talk about a new world order, and one is certainly necessary. But under what 
banner will it take shape? The banner of man-machine, of the "computer-man," or under the banner of 
a diversified organization of living peoples? Will the earth be reduced to something homogeneous 
because of deculturalizing and depersonalizing trends for which American imperialism is now the most 
cynical and arrogant vector? Or will people find the means for the necessary resistance in their beliefs, 
traditions, and ways of seeing the world? This is really the decisive question that has been raised at the 
beginning of the next millennium. 

Whoever says federation, says federalist principle. Whoever says empire, says imperial principle. Today 
this idea does not seem to appear anywhere. Yet it is written in history. It is an idea which has yet to find 
its time. But it has a past and a future. It is also a matter of making an origin clear. At the time of the 
Hundred Years War, Louis d'Estouteville's motto was" "Where honor is, where loyalty is, there lies my 
country." We have our nationality and we are proud of it. But it is also possible to be citizens of an idea 
in the imperial tradition. This is what Evola argues: "The idea alone should represent the country ... It is 
not the fact of belonging to the same soil, speaking the same language, or having the same bloodline 
which should unite or divide us, but the fact of supporting or not supporting the same idea." 24 This does 
not mean that roots are unimportant. On the contrary, they are essential. It only means that everything 
must be put into perspective. This is the whole difference between origin as a principle and origin as 
pure subjectivity. Only origin conceived as a principle makes it possible to defend the cause of peoples, 
of all peoples, and to understand that, far from being a threat to one's own identity, the identity of 
others in fact plays a role in what allows one to defend one's respective identity against a global system 



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The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 

which tries to destroy them. It is necessary to affirm the superiority of the idea which preserves diversity 
for everyone's benefit. It is necessary to assert the value of the imperial principle. 

Notes: 



Naissance de la Nation France (Paris: Gallimard, 1985). 

Les Debuts de I'Etat Moderne: Une Histoire des Idees Politiques au XIXe Siecle (Paris: Fayard, 1976) p. 92. 
3 Revolte Contre le Monde Moderne, (Montreal: L'Homme, 1972) p. 121. 

Les Hommes au Milieu des Ruines (Paris: Sept Couleurs, 1972) p. 141. 

Essais Politiques (Puiseaux: Pards, 1988) p. 86. 

Robert Folz, Le Coronnement Imperial de Charlemagne (Paris: Gallimard, 1964). 

Essais Politiques, op. cit., p. 83. 
8 Histoire de I'Empire des Habsbourg 12734918 (Paris: Fayard, 1990). 

Le Liberalisme Economique: Histoire de I'ldee de Marche (Paris: Seuil, 1989) p. 124. 
10 L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution, Vol. I (Paris: Gallimard, 1964) p. 65. (First edition 1856). 

Cf. Pierre Rosanvallon, L'Etat en France de 1789 a Nos Jours (Paris: Seuil, 1990). 

"Deperissement de la Nation?" in Commentaire (Spring, 1988) p. 104. 

Essais sur I'lndividualisme (Paris: Seuil, 1983) pp. 20-1. 

La Nation: Essor et Declin des Societes modemes, (Paris: Fayard, 1987) p. 931. 

cf. Justus Beyer, Die Standeideologien der Systemzeit und ihre Uberwindung (Darmstadt, 1942). 
15 Essais Politiques, op. cit., p. 62. 

Revolte Contre le Monde Moderne, op. cit., p. 124. 

During the Weimar Republic, there was a real growth in publications concerning the idea of empire and of 
"thinking about the Reich" (Reichsgedanke). On this subject, see Fritz Buchner, ed., Was ist das Reich? Eine 
Aussprache unter Deutschen (Oldenburg: Gerhard Stalling, 1932); Herbert Kruger, "Der Moderne Reichsgedanke," 
in Die lat (December 1933) pp. 703-15 and (January 1934) pp. 795-804; Edmund Schopen, Geschichte der 
Reichsidee, 8 Volumes, (Munich: Carl Rohrig, 1936); Peter Richard Rohden, Die Idee des Reiches in der 
Europaischen Geschichte (Oldenburg: Gerhard Stalling, 1943); Paul Goedecke, Der Reichsgedanke im Schriftum von 
1919 bis 1935 (Marburg: Doctoral thesis, 1951). The authors dealing with this subject often disagree about the 
meaning of the idea of empire and about the relation between the medieval Germanic Reich and the Roman 
imperium. In Catholic circles, the apology for empire often expresses nostalgia for the medieval Christian unity 
before the religious wars. The concept of the Reich as a "Holy Alliance" or as a "sacramental reality" frequently 
points to romanticism (Novalis, Adam Muller) but also to Constantin Franz. In other respects, the idea of a "third 
empire" carries chiliastic representations from the end of the Middle Ages (Joachim of Fiore's announcement of 
the Reign of the Spirit). On the Protestant side, one finds the "Reich theologies," especially in Friedrich Gogarten's 
Politische Ethik (Berlin, 1931), Wilhelm Stapel's Der Christliche Staatsmann: Eine Theologie der Nationalismus 
(Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1932) or Friedrich Hielscher's Das Reich (Berlin: Reich, 1931), but from a 
different perspective. In Stapel, the main idea is that of a national Reich having its own "nomos" with a 
pronounced pluri-ethnic character but sanctifying German hegemony. See his reply to the supporters of the 
Catholic Reich, "Der Reichsgedanke zwischen den Konfessionen," in Deutsches Volkstum, (November 15, 1932) pp. 
909-16. In Moeller van den Bruck, this secularized and strictly German concept of empire is stressed even more. 
Verv critical of the Holy Roman Empire, Moeller accuses Staufen of having been taken in by the "Italian mirage," 
and of wanting to make the imperium romanum (the "periphery") live again rather than trying to unify the German 
people (the "center"). This is the reason for his strange sympathy with the Guelphs and for his preference for the 
Deutsches Reich deutscher Nation as opposed to the Heiliges romisches Reich. 

After 1933, the discussion concerning the idea of Reich [Reichsidee) was carried on outside official circles. 
For Carl Schmitt, the notion of empire is the central representation of a new right-wing political order of peoples 
associated with the notion of "great space" (Grossraum) - an idea which was strongly criticized by the supporters 
of a purely German and volkisches notion of empire. These supporters saw in the Reich the organizing force for a 
"living space" grounded in the "biological" substance of the German peoples. This argument is made by Reinhard 
Hohn ("Grossraumordnung und volkisches Rechtsdenken: in Reich, Volksordung, Lebensraum, 1943, pp. 216-352). 
See also Karl Richard Ganzer, Das Retch als europaische Ordnungsmacht, (Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 

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The Idea of Empire Alain de Benoist 



1941-2); and Oswald Torsten, Riche: Eine Geschichtliche Studie bet die Entwicklung der Reichsidee (Munich and 
Berlin: R. Oldenburg, 1943). 

19 Mes Idees Politiques, (Albatros, 1983) p. 281. 

20 Enquete sur la Monarchie 1900-1909, 1st ed. (Nile Libr. Nationale, 1909) p. XIII. 
Au-dela du Nationalisme, (Paris: Gallirnard, 1938). 

Cf. Karlheinz Weissmann, "Das Herz des Kontinents: Reichsgedanke und Mitteleuropa-ldee," in Mut (January, 
1987) pp. 24-35. 
23 "L"Empire Latin," in La Regie du Jeu (May 1, 1990) p. 94. 

Les Hommes au Milieu des Ruines, op. cit., p. 41. 



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